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The Origin of Serendipity

The very first time I got to know the word ‘serendipity’ was when I was a freshman at the university. Our dormitory had a pretty solid file-sharing network system, thanks to the majority of engineering students who were bright at technology. I downloaded quite a few movies to celebrate the beginning of university life in a four-person dorm room. Ocean’s Eleven and Serendipity were the first ones that I watched on my new desk.

Serendipity is a romance movie that shows how strong ‘serendipity’ can be. A couple met, fell in love when they both had a partner. They went on their lives but they couldn’t get over the fact that how strong they felt to each other years ago. She wrote her contact number on a book, then sell it to the second hand bookstore, and he wrote his number on a five dollar bill. She said if they are meant to be together, they will find each other. At the end, they find each other. Happy ending.

 

This is another typical Hollywood-style love story, but it still remains as one of my favorite movies. Maybe because the romance was so romantic, or maybe just because I liked to see sometimes universe does work mysterious way. Since then, serendipity became my favorite English word, because it was the word that perfectly describing what’s important in my life.

 

serendipity |ˌserənˈdipitē|

noun

the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way : a fortunate stroke of serendipity | a series of small serendipities.

 

 

I’ve always liked to think that I was a lucky person. I met good friends in unexpected circumstances. My postcard I sent to a radio station got picked to read. The timing seemed like always on my side. Hard work is important in success, but following a good timing can be more important. As you can see from my bio, I’m a big believer of serendipity. It doesn’t promise me a better future or anything, but sometimes it helps me to power through the hard situation, and believe myself.

 

After I got to know the perfect word to describe my point of view of this world, I’ve realized how many serendipity moments I have in my life. Good things happen when I was least expected. Serendipity.

 

The one particular occasion I remember was from Taipei, many years ago. I walked into a dorm room in Taipei when a guy was on Skype with his girlfriend. I awkwardly changed my clothes to summer wear. He hung up the phone, and we exchanged the typical dorm room conversation. Where are you from, when did you get here, how do you like so far, etc. I thought he was American based on his smooth English, but he was Finnish. He said he was living in Korea for now. “English teacher?” I said, “Studying.” he replied. He was an exchange student from Finland, studying science, and surprisingly, he was studying at my university I just graduated a few months ago. For me, who didn’t have many global travel experiences, and lucky coincidences, it was a pretty memorable moment. I got to meet all of his exchange student friends from school when I went back home, and we became good friends. Now he is married to his back-then girlfriend from Colombia, and I got to meet his best friend in Finland when I went to Turku.

 

The recent serendipity moment came from the Rough Guides to Sri Lanka. Apparently, this is the very first place where the world serendipity appeared. Sri Lanka had many different names from different people in the old days. The Arabs referred this island as Serendib, the origin word for English word serendipity. I dug it little deeper. The 10th century historian Alberuni called Sri Lanka Singal-Dip, the world meaning island. However, in Arabic, Sri Lanka came to known as Serendip, which led to the Persian fairy tale the Three Princes of Serendip’. This story led the first noted use of “serendipity” in the English language by Horace Walpole. In a letter to Horace Mann (dated 28 January 1754) he said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, whose heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of”. Sailan is an newer Arabic form of the old word Serendip, later came to be the root of Ceylon, the another previous name of this island.

 

It’s interesting what we learn when we are least expected. Serendipity, no?

 

 

Juno Kim
Juno Kim
Juno Kim, a happiness-seeking storyteller. Photographer, writer, and trained mechanical engineer. Life-long nerd. I left the cubic farm to follow my true love: the world. A firm believer of serendipity, astronomy enthusiaster, and living by passion and love in life. Currently, on a quest to discover stories and find the place where I can call 'home'. Follow my journey through @RunawayJuno and Google+ .

11 Comments

  1. Naomi says:

    Such a cute post Juno. I too am a big believer in stuff like serendipity and karma – I think it helps to keep me on my toes as you never know what might happen!

  2. JR Riel says:

    I had actually never really learned this word and it’s meaning until last year during a travel photo carnival being hosted by Jimmy at “Fly, Icarus, Fly” who chose the word as his theme. It is a very intriguing and catchy term, and some very serendipitous photos were contributed for that carnival round. I really had no idea of its origins and roots though! Very informative!

  3. I am a big believer in serendipity too. There is a beach in Cambodia that is called Serendipity and I met a backpacker there a few years ago who is one of my best friends now. Doesn’t get more serendipity than that! 🙂

  4. kami says:

    ah, it’s such a lovely post and I could have written every word of it. From the movie, to the love for word (it’s my fave English word as well and I learnt it thanks to the movie!) to beliving that out lives is lead by serendipity! Now you just made me wanna watch this movie again! 🙂

  5. Lani says:

    Lovely story Juno. Unexpected with twist w/ Sri Lanka. Cheers!

  6. Mark Hodson says:

    Totally agree about serendipity. I’m also a big fan of capriciousness (def: the quality of being guided by sudden unpredictable impulses)

  7. Giulia says:

    I love finding out about the origin of words. And for me this one has a special meaning, as you know. Now it’s even more special, because thanks to this post I found out it comes from Arabic, the language that I am learning! It’s incredible how they have a word for everything. 🙂
    Oh and I have to watch that movie, I can’t believe I didn’t do it yet!

  8. Nikita says:

    I’m oddly excited that you wrote an entire post about my favorite word 😀
    To me, serendipity makes travel memorble. Even the best laid plans can’t compare to those perfect moments that happen by accident.

  9. Good post, Juno! I’m glad to learn this history. I had heard that Serendip had been the name of a country. I thought perhaps it was Bhutan or someplace in the Himalayas. I didn’t realize it was Sri Lanka. Thanks!

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